Civil rights are the rights that we have to social freedom and equality, but has COVID-19 and quarantine taken those away from us?
As Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell once said, “you don’t know what you’ve got, till’ it’s gone.” Who would have thought we would be using such a piece as an analogy for the loss of civil rights during a global pandemic in 2020? Going dancing with friends, yearly family reunions, and attending weddings and concerts are all social freedoms we took for granted in a pre-COVID world.
What are civil rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) was added to the Canadian Constitution. The Constitution defines the rules by which our country operates. The Charter outlines the fundamental rights necessary for Canadians to live in a free and democratic society. Civil rights – equality, and the freedom of expression, assembly, and religion – are protected under the Charter.
Civil rights and public health
There are situations in which civil rights can be limited. When we look at civil rights in the context of politics, the government may limit some rights if there is a justifiable reason to do so – proof. However, the government can restrict civil rights without evidence or justification, but rather, out of precaution when it comes to public health.
A lack of evidence upon enforcing intrusive measures – like lockdowns – has been found to be controversial. Many people argue that it becomes possible for lawmakers to make decisions without much factual information about how it can benefit or negatively impact Canadians. As a result, these limitations of civil rights and liberties may be considered excessive and unnecessarily intrusive. Furthermore, it can impact specific demographics and vulnerable populations at disproportional rates.
Civil rights that have been impacted by COVID-19
The most apparent civil right to be impacted by COVID-19 is the freedom of peaceful assembly. Revoking access to public spaces and placing limits on gatherings made it virtually impossible for Canadians to practice this right. While this may be the most apparent civil right to be impacted, almost every civil right was affected in some way, shape or form. Unwritten civil rights like being able to walk your dog in a public park, sit on a bench, and playing basketball with your neighbours quickly became somewhat of a novelty.
No one can see the future; it’s hard to predict precisely how the rest of the pandemic will unfold. We can try our best to learn from other countries that have successfully eradicated the virus, but what works for them may not work for us.
The limitation of civil rights and impacts on employment rights and disability rights in Canada due to the virus can be frustrating and may sometimes feel unnecessary. It’s tough for anyone to say what the best approach is, and we will likely continue to experience these impacts for months to come. The best we can do is be patient, stay informed, and be empathetic for those who may be more vulnerable to these current conditions.